This book, published in 1886 and illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, chronicles the American writer Washington Irving's nostalgic recollections of Christmas traditions in 19th century England. The text first appeared in 1819 in Irving's Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
, which also contained such classics as "Rip van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
You can listen to an audio version
of this book courtesy of LibriVox.
April 1, 2008
"Old Christmas" is a collection of five Christmas "sketches" by Washington Irving from his famous Sketch Book. It describes Irving's experiences at the English country estate of Mr. Bracebridge during the "coaching days" of the early 19th century, focusing on the sights, sounds, smells and traditions of "Old" Christmas. In spirit it hearkens back to the Middle Ages -- before the "peasants" had learned to read newspapers or were talking politics at the local pub, when manner lords opened their halls for the local folk to feast in a show of gratitude, under the watchful stare of painted ancient family crusaders and armored statues. This wonderful account has a tangible sense of realism mixed with romanticism and the comforts of tradition.
The 100+ pen and ink drawings throughout are by Randolph Caldecott, a prolific and famous children's book artist of the 19th century. This illustrated edition was created in 1886 (posthumously to Irving) and was a best seller, remaining in print to this day (I found a recent reprint at Borders). The pictures bring the book to life, we see the exact "physiognomy" and "countenance" of the many curious Dickens-like characters, the scenes of feasting and dancing, the old English kitchens, the stage coach, the dress and mannerisms of a "Coachy" - priceless details that effortlessly transport the reader back in time.